Assessing the potential for social learning in building sustainable communities

Project details

Project details

Full project title: Assessing the potential for social learning in building sustainable communities

Duration: March 2011 - September 2012

Sponsor: ESRC and the Academy for Sustainable Communities (Joint Initiative)

Project Leader for SPE: Dr Ian Smith

Other UWE Bristol researchers:

  • Dr Ian Smith (Principal Investigator)
  • Ron Griffiths
  • Tony Bryan
  • John Lever
  • Laura Braybrook

Research partners/collaborators:

  • RPTI
  • Creating Excellence

Project summary

The project explored how practitioners engaged in a large development project learnt at work to face new challenges through interviews, facilitate on-line discussion groups and workshops. The findings of this research:

  • Time to reflect and deliberate was not generally available to these practitioners and hence learning moments realised as a Eureka moment were thought important.
  • Situated knowledge (as understanding of context) was an important component of being able to do one's job. The importance of situated knowledge or context-dependent understanding must not be forgotten in concentrating on ‘generic' skills and knowledge.
  • There were two types of learning practice: the reinforcement of expertise within a given practice (for example the maturing use of consultants to offer commercial viability advice on development proposals); secondly there was emergence of hybrid practitioners whose work spanned the boundaries between different groups of practitioners/organisations.
  • It is difficult to manage learning but the presence of high level champions (amongst strategic decision-makers) for change, direct line management that was either supportive or benignly permissive, and opportunities for colleagues to work and talk about what they do (including contact with colleagues outside the immediate organisationally-based work team) all helped.

Project contact

For further information, please contact Dr Ian Smith (

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